Love & Partnership

Getting a divorce in Italy

If you need to get a divorce in Italy, make sure you know your rights, costs, and steps to take, including custody and property division.

Divorce in Italy
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By Alicia Walker

Updated 13-3-2024

Although no one enters a marriage planning to leave it, divorce can become a reality for some couples. During this emotional time, the administration can seem overwhelming. To make the process a little smoother, read on to learn all you need to know about the legal grounds for divorce in Italy, the costs involved, child custody arrangements, the division of property, and what to do if your visa depends on your marriage.

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An overview of divorce in Italy

Divorce rates have been declining slightly in recent years across much of Europe. However, in 2020, divorce rates per hundred marriages in Bella Italia were in the top four highest (68.8%) in Europe, which is quite a shift from 2017 (47.9%). The reason for this drastic jump likely falls to the change in the laws on divorce in Italy in 2016, which reduced the time it took to get a divorce from three years to six months. Much of Europe was already following this quicker divorce model, and the statistics suggest that Italy is now following suit.

The Church has previously had a strong influence on society in Italy. Given its Catholic roots, it’s unsurprising that the public attitude towards divorce has previously been more negative and conservative than in many other European countries. In fact, divorce in Italy was only legalized in 1970. However, attitudes towards divorce in Italy have become more liberal and accepting in recent years as religious commitment in the country wanes.

It’s a weighty decision to end a marriage. And there are specific legal criteria the Italian courts require to dissolve a union (in Italian). Most couples need to have separated for at least 12 months (six in some cases). This does not apply when:

  • A spouse has been convicted of a serious crime, including mistreating family members
  • The couple has not consummated the marriage
  • A foreign national spouse has dissolved or annulled the marriage or entered a new marriage abroad
  • One of the spouses has officially changed genders

Legal separation

A legal separation is one that a court has ordered. They must have found that the spouses can no longer live together. This can be for a number of reasons – the most common in Italy are infidelity, no longer being in love, and violence and aggression.

Courthouse in Milan, seen from below with the sky and the Italian flag
Courthouse in Milan (Photo: Stefano Madrigali/Getty Images)

When a court has ruled that a couple can no longer live together, they will issue a separation order, even if one of the spouses disagrees. Once the couple has been legally apart for 12 months, they may get divorced. However, if they separate by mutual consent or reach an agreement with a lawyer, they may be able to divorce after six months apart.

Criminal conviction

If your husband or wife faces a conviction for a serious crime after your wedding, you can use this as the reason to dissolve your marriage. It doesn’t matter whether the offense occurred before or after your wedding. These include a term of imprisonment of more than 15 years for an intentional crime or one of the following:

  • Incest or certain other sexual offenses
  • Murder of their child or attempted murder of the other spouse or child
  • Two or more counts of grievous bodily harm
  • Failure to fulfill family support obligations
  • Mistreatment in the family, especially minors
  • Undue influence on those not of sound mind at the expense of the spouse or children

The last situation does not apply if the divorce applicant has also been convicted as an accessory, or if the couple has begun living together again.

Divorce abroad

If one of the spouses annuls the marriage or re-marries in another country, the couple may also divorce. As Italy is a member of the European Union (EU), it automatically recognizes divorces, legal separation, and annulments in other EU countries. Couples who are non-EU nationals may need to register their divorce with the Italian civil records office (Ufficio di Stato Civile).

Changed gender

In the past, if a spouse legally changed their gender, the couple had to divorce automatically. However, in recent years, it has become possible to transform such a marriage into a civil union. Currently, in Italy, a marriage may only exist between cisgender men and women. In case of a gender transition, you may need to get legal advice, as the procedure can be complicated.

What to do if your visa depends on your marriage

EU citizens are free to stay in Italy after a divorce from an Italian citizen. However, different terms apply to non-EU citizens. You may remain in the country if you have been in Italy for five years and have a permanent residence card.

A sad man sits on a bench in the foreground. Out of focus, in the background, a woman in a long dress and hat walks away.
Photo: Media Lens King/Getty Images

However, those on a temporary residence permit also do not automatically lose their residency rights. If you have been married for at least three years, you have the right (in Italian) to renew your residence permit. This is also the case if you have custody of the children you had with your former spouse. If they are guilty of familial crimes, or if the judge awarded you visitation rights in Italy and agreed that parental visits must happen in the country, you can most likely remain. You can digitally apply for your residence permit through the yellow-banded authorized post offices.

When you apply for the residence permit, you will also sign an Integration Agreement. This is a commitment to reach specific integration goals. The application costs €30, along with a €16 revenue stamp. On top of that, you’ll pay €30.46 after your permit is approved.

Getting a divorce in Italy: step by step

The first thing to do if you want to end your marriage is to separate from your partner legally. Once six or 12 months of separation have passed, you can obtain a divorce. You can read about how to do this above.

The process of getting a divorce in Italy

Hiring legal representation is one way to make the divorce process more straightforward. In that case, the lawyers walk you through the steps you need to finalize your divorce. There are several methods of divorce in Italy; some take longer than others.

Divorce in the Municipality (divorzio in comune)

If you decide not to get a lawyer and your divorce is consensual without dependent children, your first step will be filing a joint petition to separate. You can file this at a local court after the necessary six- or 12-month period of separation. If the divorce is approved, the two people will return after 30 days to confirm. During this process, you might need to provide:

  • Identity documents
  • Statement of your residence, when and where you got married, and that you have no dependent children
  • A copy of any documentation you received when legally separating from your spouse

If any of your paperwork is not in Italian, you may need to have it translated. For this, you could use a professional translation service like lingoking.

Assisted negotiation (negoziazione assistita)

In cases where couples aren’t eligible for divorzio in comune, they can hire legal help to resolve the dispute and dissolve their marriage. This assisted negotiation aims to settle matters relating to custody of children and alimony. Each spouse must have at least one lawyer. Together, they draw up an agreement, draft the conditions, and send it to the Public Prosecutor (Procuratore della Repubblica).

A young couple having a discussion with their lawyers across a table in a lawyers' office
Photo: skynesher/Getty Images

The Prosecutor then either authorizes the divorce or summons the spouses to modify the agreement. At least one of the lawyers must send it to the comune where the marriage occurred.

Joint divorce (divorzio congiunto)

Joint divorce (divorzio congiunto) differs from assisted negotiation in that it takes place in a court. This option is for spouses who have agreed regarding child support, property ownership, and other matters. The couple files an appeal and attends a hearing, confirming that they wish to proceed with the divorce. They then send the agreement to the Public Prosecutor, who issues a no-impediment document.

Once the divorce has been finalized, the Chancellor sends the decree to the comune where the marriage was registered.

Litigious divorce (divorzio contenzioso)

Should the couple not reach an agreement, one spouse will approach the court to initiate the divorce proceedings. Then, they go through the following stages:

  • Fase sommaria (summary phase): the spouses take part in a hearing before the President of the Court. During this hearing, the President notes the most important interests of the spouses and children, and appoints an investigating judge.
  • Fase istruttoria (investigatory phase): during a series of hearings, the lawyers examine evidence and documents and speak to witnesses. This aids the judge in setting the conditions for the divorce. Once the divorce is finalized, the Chancellor forwards the sentence to the comune where the marriage was registered.

Cost of getting a divorce

Depending on the type of divorce you go through, costs can vary hugely. Divorzio in comune only requires a payment of €16 to the Civil Registry Office (Ufficio di Stato Civile). However, with other types of divorce, you will need to factor in lawyer fees. You can expect a divorzio congiunto or a negoziazione assistita to reach €1,000 to 4,000.

Should you need to attend court, a fee of €43 is required as a Unified Contribution (Contributo Unificato) for a divorzio congiunto, which increases to €98 for a litigious divorce. Therefore, a litigious divorce is the most costly option – especially once you factor in the extra costs of lawyers’ time during several hearings. In general, the more complicated the divorce, and the more assets and property to divide, the more expensive the process will be.

Close-up of a man in a suit writing
Photo: Carlos Pintau/Getty Images

Additional costs may include administrative payments, court-appointed experts, and translation services. A company like lingoking could translate all your documents professionally.

Some spouses may also need to pay a divorce allowance to their ex-spouse. Those with a low income (€11,746.68 since 2020) may qualify for legal aid to assist financially with the divorce process. To access this, contact the Secretariat of the Council of the Order of Lawyers (Segreteria del Consiglio dell’Ordine degli Avvocati).

Things to consider when getting a divorce in Italy

Of course, if you have children, they will be your first consideration. You’ll also need to take assets and spousal maintenance into account. Finally, if you’re a woman who wants to remarry after divorce, you should be aware that under Italian law, you must first wait 300 days.

Custody of children and child support

In Italy, child custody and child support are determined with lawyers in an assisted negotiation or the courts during divorce proceedings. The primary consideration is the best interests of the child. Generally, judges prefer to grant shared custody, where the child lives primarily with one parent while the other parent is free to see them without limits. However, the court may award sole custody to one parent if one parent is deemed unfit or the child’s welfare is at risk.

A woman hugging a baby
Photo: LaraBelova/Getty Images

Lawyers or the court will also decide on child support payments to cover the child’s basic needs, such as food, clothing, and housing. The court base the amount of child support on the income of the parent responsible for making the payments, and the number of children and their needs. It may also consider the income of the parent, who is the child’s primary custodian.

Property division

In Italy, the division of property during a divorce includes all assets acquired during the marriage. This includes:

  • Real estate
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Retirement accounts
  • Business interests
  • Motor vehicles

For each, the court considers each asset’s value and the contributions each spouse made towards its acquisition, maintenance, and improvement. Hiring a lawyer to help divide assets can protect you and ensure you reach a fair settlement.

Spousal maintenance/alimony

Spousal maintenance (assegno di mantenimento) is an absolute right in Italy. Any spouse that cannot look after themself will receive economic support from the other. However, the recipient is no longer entitled to it if they remarry. It’s also possible for this maintenance to take the form of a single payment or property transfer.

Assegno di mantenimento aims is to ensure the spouse enjoys the same living standard they had before divorcing. It’s usually calculated according to how much each spouse earned, why they decided to separate, and their personal and financial contributions to the management of the family. Lawyers and courts might also consider the following:

  • The age of the people involved
  • The length of the marriage
  • The potential future earnings of the recipient

These maintenance payments also apply to the children, who have the right to retain their standard of living. You can apply for them during the divorce proceedings or separately through your local court.

Not paying alimony is a crime, so if your ex-partner refuses to pay, seek legal assistance. A lawyer can send a formal notice to them, followed by a writ of precept (atto di precetto). If the spouse still does not pay, lawyers can send a foreclosure (pignoramento), allowing you to recover alimony from a seized account, salary, or pension.

In Italy, it is not mandatory to have a lawyer to file for divorce or to request spousal maintenance. However, if the case is complex or you are unfamiliar with the Italian legal system, a lawyer can help you:

  • Navigate the process
  • Understand your rights and obligations
  • Ensure that your interests get adequate protection

They can also represent you in court and negotiate on your behalf. In some cases, lawyers work together with accountants and private investigators to discover the economic situation of the other party, which may not have been openly disclosed.

Alternatives to getting a divorce in Italy

Besides divorce, there are other ways to dissolve marriages in Italy.

Getting an annulment

An annulment is different from divorce. A divorce ends a valid marriage, whereas, after an annulment, it is as though the marriage never existed. It is possible to get an annulment in Italy if one or more of the partners was:

  • Already married
  • Previously convicted of (attempted) murder of their partner’s previous spouse
  • Mentally infirm
  • Not of sound mind
  • Underage
  • Related (including by affiliation or adoption)
  • Under duress
  • Pretending to get married to obtain rights (simulation)
A court in Rome, judicial offices
Judicial offices in Rome (Photo: VitalyEdush/Getty Images)

For a civil marriage, you will need to approach your local court to annul the marriage. Those who got married in a Catholic church must apply to the ecclesiastical court (tribunale ecclesiastico) and the civil court to void the marriage.

Divorce mediation

Mediation is a cheaper and more harmonious way to dissolve a marriage. More and more people in Italy are choosing this route to divorce. It involves just one mediator (a lawyer acting as a mediator), and the divorcing couple shares the cost. A mediator helps reach a mutually acceptable agreement, which takes far less time than any other method of divorce. Typically, disputes resolve in four to five sessions. While it is similar to assisted negotiation, the decisions are not enforceable in the same way.

Ending a civil partnership in Italy

A civil partnership in Italy is a non-religious union. It can be between different-sex or same-sex adults who have made a declaration in front of a civil registrar with two witnesses present. To end a civil partnership, both parties must state their intention to exit the union before a registrar. They may appear separately to do this. After three months, they must submit their application for the dissolution of the civil partnership to the courts.  

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